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A vote for democracy

// Published June 5, 2006 in The Los Angeles Times

A PROPOSED EXPERIMENT with majority rule has generated plenty of naysayers who apparently think that some nations are simply too immature to let people directly choose their own leaders. But we say the United States is ready for real democracy.

The experiment is the National Popular Vote campaign, which intends to undermine the Constitution's anachronistic Electoral College. If the campaign succeeds, future presidents will take office only if they win the popular vote nationwide.

The ingenious scheme was developed by John R. Koza, a Stanford professor who also invented the scratch-off lottery ticket. It calls on state legislatures to pass a measure dictating that all the electoral votes from that state go to the winner of the national popular vote. It goes into effect only if enough states approve it to represent a majority of the electoral votes. In other words, if states that represent at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes all approve the measure, the winner of the popular vote nationwide would automatically win the presidency. It thus renders the Electoral College moot without eliminating it.

This kind of end run is necessary because the only way to get rid of the Electoral College entirely is via a constitutional amendment, which would be nearly impossible to pass. Enough small states benefit from the current system to block an amendment. The beauty of this approach is that each state is constitutionally allowed to allot its electoral votes as it sees fit. The measure was approved by California's Assembly on Tuesday and is pending in four other states; backers hope to get it before all 50 states by January.

Anyone wondering why he should care about the Electoral College need look no further than the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won the presidency despite getting about half a million fewer votes than Al Gore. If that makes conservatives think they should be thankful that the majority doesn't always rule in the United States, they should think again. The same thing nearly happened in reverse in 2004. If John Kerry had picked up a mere 60,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have won -- even though Bush took in 3 million more votes overall.

The Electoral College doesn't skew just election results; it skews elections. Candidates know they don't have to campaign in states that either clearly favor them or clearly don't; they have to focus only on swing states. In the 2004 campaign, Bush and Kerry spent a great deal of time brushing up on agricultural policy and other issues of vital concern in Iowa, while ignoring matters important to people in states such as California, Texas and New York.

Opponents argue that the current system ensures that smaller states continue to have a say in setting national policy. But the U.S. Senate already gives Delaware every bit as much clout as California. Any method besides majority vote empowers some citizens at the expense of others and makes the president beholden to minority interests.

At its inception, the United States was, well, a union of states. But it is now one nation, and our president should be elected by the citizens of that nation, not by its constituent states. To argue otherwise is to say that some Americans should have more power to elect a president than others simply because of where they live. Remember, all men are created equal. Including Californians and New Yorkers.